Report from Indivisible Sonoma County – Changing the California Delegation in Congress, 2018

In a detailed, data-driven presentation, Larry Martin, the chair of Indivisible Sonoma County’s Out of District committee, demonstrated the importance of voter turn-out in electing Democratic candidates in close elections. The presentation was at the Windsor Democratic Club’s regularly scheduled meeting of February 28.

In the 2018 mid-term elections, Indivisible focused its energy on flipping U.S. congressional districts in California held by Republicans. Thirteen of the fourteen Republican districts were targeted; the fourteenth, District 8 (Inyo County), where two Republicans were running against each other, was a lost cause.

For the primaries, Indivisible stressed getting people to vote. In California first-time voters are more likely to vote for Democrats, given the proper encouragement. The other major targeted group was irregular voters registered as Democrats, those who voted in Presidential elections but not at mid-terms.

In response to a question, Martin said that voter registration drives should be held in places or events where large number of people were likely to gather, such as county fairs, Cinco de Mayo celebrations, at high schools during assemblies, and on college campuses. By contrast, alongside Highway 395 in Lone Pine was not a good place to register new voters, Martin said.

For the general elections, irregular and first-time voters were encouraged to vote specifically for the Democratic candidate running in their district..

Volunteers manned phone banks, canvassed the target districts, and sent postcards and texts. Martin noted that postcards have a personal touch that is missing in most communications, and that postcard writing parties also give activists a chance to get together. Gloria Bealer, who hosted a series of postcard writing parties at the Round Table Pizza in Montgomery Village which attracted as many as 68 people, helped send out 31,000 postcards during the general election.

Using texts to get out the vote is a new strategy. Texts are faster, easier and more reliable than traditional phone banking for encouraging people to register to vote, to apply for mail-in ballots, and to vote.

Canvassing, which requires volunteers to travel, is not practical in rural areas, Martin said. But no single get-out-the-vote strategy was decisively better than another. Continuing to push up until election day in the thirteen districts was vital, Martin said, because last-minute voters tend to vote for the challenger, not the incumbent.

Seven of the targeted thirteen districts, in southern California and agricultural San Joaquin Valley, were flipped in November, sometimes by narrow margins.

In district 21, which includes parts of Fresno, King, Kerns, and Tulare counties, the margin was 50.4% to 49.5% in favor of the Democratic Party challenger. In district 39, which runs along the coast between Los Angeles and San Diego, the Democratic candidate won 51.6% to 48.4%. The entire coast of California is now blue, Martin noted.

Martin expressed optimism that additional California House districts could be flipped in 2020, particularly district 50 in rural San Diego County, where Duncan Hunter is under indictment for election fraud. Hunter won 51.7% to 48.3%. District 1, stretching from Yosemite to the Oregon border on the rural eastern side of the state presents a greater challenge.

Martin also expressed confidence that Indivisible and allied activist organizations such as Swing Left will have a positive effect on the 2020 national elections. But he warned that Republicans will use countermeasures, such as gerrymandering and purging voter rolls, as well as targeted voter messaging and soliciting small donations in imitation of Democratic party activists in 2018.

–Shirley Johnston

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